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FNM MP accused of hypocrisy in layoffs

Turnquest’s company let go workers on Monday
  • Peter Turnquest. FILE

CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Oct 23, 2013

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East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest was slamming the government on what he called a “mass firing” from the Business License Unit at the same time SkyBahamas, a company he partially owns, was making the decision to lay off its own employees.

But Turnquest said yesterday there is no connection between his private dealings as a businessman and his statements in his public capacity.

He also said the two unemployment matters cannot be compared.

“It has no connection at all,” insisted Turnquest when asked by The Nassau Guardian whether there was a contradiction between his public criticisms of the government and his company’s decision to let go some of its staff.

“It has nothing to do with SkyBahamas.  SkyBahamas is a private entity.  It does not receive any subsidies from any government and as such has to do what it has to do in order to survive the situation that it has been placed in.”

But Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Bradley Roberts, who like Turnquest was contacted for comment on the matter, said the MP is being hypocritical.

“I found it very interesting and it smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order on Mr. Turnquest’s part because there he was complaining based on unsubstantiated complaints to him of something that is supposed to be happening [at the Business License Unit],” Roberts said.

“And there he was in the midst of the same thing happening in his company that is factual.  He apparently does not see a [connection] between the two.  He is one of the leading principals [in SkyBahamas].  It’s interesting.”

On Sunday, Turnquest said the Free National Movement (FNM) received reports that the Business License Unit within the Ministry of Finance terminated more than 20 employees last Friday.

“These latest terminations by the government are another in a long list of firing of persons employed within the public sector in varying capacities since the PLP returned to office in May 2012,” he said in a statement.

“The FNM is informed that this mass firing is of persons who were on contract but whose contracts have come to an end.”

Turnquest urged the government to “hold the line” on public employment levels for a while longer, “especially if — as the present case suggests — there is meaningful work for the people to do”.

“At the time when private sector organizations have been discretely laying off workers due to lackluster economic activity, government mass firings of people who work in entry-level to mid-level jobs is a major cause for concern,” said Turnquest, the shadow minister of finance.

When he answered The Guardian’s questions yesterday, Turnquest sought to explain why the situation at SkyBahamas should not be compared to that at the Business License Unit.

“In our situation, in the private situation, it was not brought on by us,” said Turnquest, who is reportedly a major shareholder in the airline.  “It was brought on by the staff themselves.  In the other situation (at the Business License Unit) those people didn’t do anything to be terminated.”

At a press conference on Monday, SkyBahamas CEO and President Randy Butler said the layoffs are the result of months of falling demand, increased competition and the effects of recent union action.

Days after a group of pilots was furloughed for six months, the airline announced that it will cut more staff from the workforce to stem financial losses.

Butler said 10 non-technical employees in customer services and one more technical employee were laid off.

Regarding the workers from the Business License Unit, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis told The Guardian on Sunday that the contracts of the workers in question expired earlier this year.

He said some workers will be rehired.

“For administrative purposes we decided to let all contracts expire and re-engage some of the workers on a contract basis based on the needs of the department and the past performance of the workers,” Halkitis said.

Turnquest insisted yesterday, “We believe that the government ought to consider seriously its actions with respect to the termination of many people in one go, considering the new thrust toward a central revenue agency and the admitted vital role that certainly some of these individuals played in the entire revenue collection process as indicated by the minister.”

Roberts suggested yesterday that Turnquest was not making sense in his explanation.

“Either you are employed or you are unemployed and whether it is generated by the private sector or the public sector the bottom line is you are unemployed,” the PLP chairman said.

“Employment is employment... I just wonder what hat he was wearing when he was making the statement and also was involved in the decision making of the layoffs [at SkyBahamas].”

Turnquest said yesterday that he recognizes that at the end of the day, joblessness amounts to the same thing — people would essentially be facing hard times.

“We recognize that these individuals have families and responsibilities and we certainly regret having to take the action that we have had to take,” he said, referring to SkyBahamas.

“However, we have to ensure that we reduce our costs so that we can survive this challenge and emerge as a stronger entity.

“I am not against layoffs per se, but I think they should be done as a last resort.”


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